Leg Workouts: Your Ultimate guide

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Your legs are one of the most vital parts in your body, and yet, they’re the most neglected when it comes to working them out. This is primarily because the legs are not showboat muscles, which means that it is hard to show off the muscles in your legs, unlike your arms. But there are several benefits that you only get to enjoy when you work them out. In this article, you will learn more about leg workouts and their importance and discover the 10 best exercises that you can perform to keep them in good shape.        

Leg Workout FAQ

Here are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about leg workouts.

1. What Are the Different Types of Leg Workouts?

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There are three primary types of leg workouts: bodyweight workouts, free-weight workouts, and machine workouts. Bodyweight workouts utilize the weight of your own body as a resistance, whereas free-weight workouts utilize the resistance provided by loaded dumbbells and barbells. Machine workouts utilize specialized machines such as the leg press, leg curl, and leg extension with selectable resistances.  

2. What Are the Benefits of Leg Workouts?

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The primary benefits that leg workouts offer are an increase in strength and muscle mass, improvement in posture, stabilization of the core, and a decrease in the chances of injury.

3. How Do You Incorporate Leg Workouts into Your Routine?

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You could incorporate leg workouts into your routine by performing 3-4 exercises every alternate day. Or, you could set aside 2 days per week and split your leg workouts between those two days.    

How We Reviewed

We spoke to several experts, fitness enthusiasts, and physiologists to identify the 10 best leg workouts that deliver the required results without putting undue strain on your body. We then proceeded to explain how to perform the chosen exercises and laid out their pros and cons.

Overall Difficulty Level of Leg Workouts

Many compound leg workouts such as the squats, lunges, and deadlifts are hard to master due to the strict form that’s required to be maintained throughout. It requires quite a bit of practice and training before you’re able to do them comfortably with proper form. This makes them unsuitable for most beginners. Most isolation leg workouts such as the ones that you do on specialized machines are beginner-friendly and relatively easier to perform and master. This is due to the fact that these exercises require you to go through a fixed range of motion, making it hard to get them wrong.    

What We Reviewed

  • Leg Press
  • Step-​Up
  • Pistol Squat
  • Glute-Ham Raise
  • Walking Lunge
  • Bulgarian Split Squat
  • Hack Squat
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • Front Squat
  • Barbell Squat

Leg Press

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How To Perform

Sit on the leg press machine and place your feet around shoulder-width apart on the platform. Fully extend your legs without locking your knees by pushing on the platform. Release the safety bars and lower the platform in a slow and controlled manner until your knees are perpendicular to your toes. Then, push the platform back to the starting position with your legs. Make sure you exhale during this portion of the exercise. Repeat this movement for as many reps as you want. Once you’re done, make sure to lock the safety bars in place before you lower the weighted platform down.

Pros

  • The leg press machine is versatile as it puts focus on different muscles in the leg depending on the foot stance
  • Leg press is safer than other forms of leg workouts as the machine has proper safety mechanisms in place

Cons

  • Leg press requires a dedicated machine to perform
  • The exercise does not activate or engage any stabilizing muscles and can end up creating muscular imbalances when not performed correctly

Step-Up

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How To Perform

This exercise can be performed using a pair of dumbbells or by placing a barbell on your shoulders. Start by standing tall in front of an elevated platform, preferably a sturdy box or a bench, holding a pair of dumbbells. Place your left foot on the platform, and using the heel of the foot, lift your entire body up onto the bench. Make sure to breathe out as you perform this movement. Then, step down with the right foot and return to the starting position. Repeat this movement with the same leg till you complete a set (often 10, 12 or 15 repetitions), and then switch and perform the same with the other leg.  

Pros

  • Perfect for people who are unable to do deadlifts due to lower back issues
  • Works your stabilizer muscles and helps improve balance

Cons

  • The exercise can be hard on your knees if you don’t do it in a slow and controlled manner
  • Using the wrong height can put your joints under stress

Pistol Squat

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How To Perform

Stand tall, look forward, and raise one leg off the floor. With your chest up and your back straight, slowly squat down. While descending, extend the raised leg forward so that it doesn’t touch the ground. When you reach the bottom of the squat, hold the position for a second and slowly return to the starting position. When ascending, make sure to exhale and drive off the heel of the foot. Repeat this movement till you finish one set, and then switch sides. While performing this exercise, you can have your arms outstretched in front of you to help balance your body.

Pros

  • As it is a bodyweight exercise, there is no need for any equipment and it can be performed almost anywhere
  • Can help get rid of muscular imbalances

Cons

  • This exercise is not suitable for beginners and for people who are out of shape as they can get hurt
  • Requires a lot of ankle and hip mobility and flexibility

Glute-Ham Raise

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How To Perform

Start off by adjusting the equipment according to your body. Once that is done, lock both your feet by placing them in between the rollers. Your feet should be firmly pressed against the footplate with your knees behind the pad. Lie face down on the machine with your back arched. Flex your knees while simultaneously pressing your toes into the foot plate. This should bring your body to an upright position. Hold it for a second and then slowly descend back into the starting position.

Pros

  • Helps increase strength and muscle mass in the glutes and hamstrings
  • Improves sprinting speed and jumping capabilities

Cons

  • This exercise requires a dedicated piece of equipment to perform
  • If done improperly, the user can end up with issues in their lower back

Walking Lunge

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How To Perform

You can perform this exercise with your own bodyweight, a pair of dumbbells, or with a barbell on your shoulder. Start by standing tall with a pair of dumbbells, and keep your feet shoulder-width apart. With your back straight, take a big step forward with your right leg and flex both your knees to get down. You should continue to get down until your left knee almost touches the ground. Make sure that the knee doesn’t go past the toes as that can put a lot of stress on the knees. Using the heel of the right foot, drive your body back up. Now perform the lunge with the other leg.  

Pros

  • Can be performed almost anywhere and does not require any equipment
  • Helps improve balance and core stability

Cons

  • Can put a lot of strain on the knees if they go past the toes
  • Exercise can cause back problems if performed incorrectly

Bulgarian Split Squat

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How To Perform

You will need a bench and a pair of dumbbells to perform this exercise. Start off by standing in front of a bench with a pair of dumbbells. Position your left foot forward and your right foot on the bench. Slowly get down into a lunge by flexing your knees. Make sure to keep your body straight throughout the movement. Once your left thigh is parallel to the ground, stop descending, and hold this position for a second. Drive through the heel and return to the starting position. Once you’re done with a set, switch your legs up and repeat the movement.  

Pros

  • Isolates and engages the quadriceps more than other leg workouts
  • Dramatically increases the stability, balance, and strength in the legs

Cons

  • Shearing forces on the knee increases once it goes past the toes
  • Requires quite a bit of flexibility to perform

Hack Squat

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How To Perform

Start by positioning yourself on the machine by placing your shoulders under the shoulder pads and resting your back on the back pad. Keep your feet on the platform using a shoulder-width stance, with toes pointed slightly. Push yourself up by pressing down on the platform and disengage the safety bars. Extend your legs without locking your knees. Then, slowly lower the machine by bending the knees until you form a 90-degree angle. Hold this position for a second and push yourself back up by driving through the heels. Make sure to exhale during this movement. Once you’re done, lock the safety bars in place before getting yourself out.

Pros

  • Very low risk of lower back strain as your body is well supported throughout the movement
  • Great for working out the quadriceps

Cons

  • Can be uncomfortable and unnatural due to the fixed and rigid range of motion
  • Some hack squat machines can end up hurting you if you don’t engage the safety bars on time

Romanian Deadlift

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How To Perform

You’ll need a loaded barbell in order to perform this exercise. Start by holding the loaded bar at hip level with a pronated grip. Stand tall, with your shoulders back, chest pushed out front, back arched, and knees slightly bent. Slowly lower the bar down by pushing your butt out. Keep the bar close to your body. Do not look down as that can cause your back to curve. Instead, look forward. Once the bar is lowered to a point below your knee, stop and hold for a second. Drive your hips forward and get back to the starting position.

Pros

  • Increases hip lower back strength, mobility, and flexibility
  • Helps build strength and muscle mass in the hamstrings and glutes  

Cons

  • If done incorrectly, the exercise can cause lower back issues

Front Squat

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How To Perform

Although this exercise can be performed without a squat rack, it is recommended that you do it inside one for added safety. Start off by setting a loaded barbell on a rack that’s appropriate for your height. Get under the bar and place it on your deltoids. Cross your arms and grasp the bar while keeping your elbows high. Lift the bar off the rack and slowly step away. Stand tall with your back straight and your feet shoulder-width apart and point your toes slightly outward. Lower the bar slowly by bending your knees till your thighs break parallel with the floor. Push yourself back up to the starting position by driving through the middle of your feet. Make sure to exhale as you perform this movement.    

Pros

  • Minimizes the load on the spine
  • The exercise helps you maintain an upright torso and allows you to squat deep

Cons

  • Not suitable for beginners and people with lower back issues
  • You’ll be forced to use less weight when compared with the barbell squat

Barbell Squat

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How To Perform

It is recommended that you perform this exercise inside a squat rack. Start by setting a loaded barbell on a rack that’s appropriate for your height. Get under the bar and place it on your traps while keeping your head up and your chest out. Lift the bar off the rack and slowly step away. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width, with the toes pointing outward. Slowly lower the bar by bending your knees till your upper thighs touch your calves. At this point, push yourself back up by driving through the middle of your feet. Make sure to exhale as you perform this movement.

Pros

  • Works a lot of muscles simultaneously such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and even the abs
  • Improves body stability and balance

Cons

  • Barbell squat is risky and can cause injury if performed incorrectly
  • Not suitable for people with shoulder and lower back issues

The Verdict

The barbell squat is and will always be the king of leg workouts. Being a compound movement, it works a multitude of muscle groups and can help develop significant strength and muscle mass. The only downside to this wonderful exercise is that it requires you to maintain a strict form throughout. Without proper form, you can end up injuring yourself. Also, people with lower back issues might want to steer clear of this exercise. Instead, they can opt for leg presses and Bulgarian split squats as these two leg workouts do not stress the lower back. People wanting to solely focus on developing their hamstrings and glutes can opt for the Romanian deadlift, which is another one of the best leg workouts.  

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